By far the majority of ministry needs to happen outside, and not inside, the congregation

I am not arguing for a new type of congregation. In our current societal framework, the congregation will continue to be separate from the daily life of non members. As Newbigin suggests, to address the challenge of mission to a nation or community, we are going to have to think in new ways that are bigger than any local congregation or denomination.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer called for the church move to “the centre of the

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

village,”[1] through the discovery of “religionless Christianity.” [2] He asserted that the “church is church only when it is there for others.”[3] While this intent sounds quite similar to the discussion about “missional church,” Bonhoeffer is not arguing for a re-formation of congregational life so that the mysteries and sacraments of the church are more readily accessible to non-believers.

Bonhoeffer called for a correlated rediscovery of the “arcane discipline”[4] so that “the mysteries of the Christian faith are sheltered against profanation.”[5] The word “arcane” literally means “hidden”[6] and in calling for a rediscovery of the arcane discipline, Bonhoeffer is calling for the recognition of the need for the normal functions of the congregation to be closed, “rather than thrust upon the world in a ‘take it or leave it’ way that profanes them”[7] as the church engages with the world.

The congregations of the early church too, were separate from society. Mission did not eminate from the gathering of the congregation, but was a result of the day to day interactions between believers and non believers in the normal business of life.

The ancient church knew nothing of “evangelistic services” or “revivals.” On the contrary, in the early church worship centred on communion, and only baptized Christians were admitted to its celebration. Therefore, evangelism did not take place in church services, but rather, as Celsus said, in kitchens, shops and markets.[8]

The modern Christian church has not been very effective in equipping its members for engagement with the world. We tend to find our Christian fellowship inside the walls of the church, and tend to wrestle with theology within the confines and actions of congregations and seminaries.Director of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, Mark Greene, calls this dilemma the “Sacred-Secular Divide,”[9] pointing out that:

The vast majority of Christians feel that they do not get any significant support for their daily work from the teaching, preaching, prayer, worship, pastoral, group aspects of local church life. No support for how they spent 50% or their waking lives.[10]

Lesslie Newbigin takes this idea a step further, asserting that equipping people for their ministry outside the church is where the real focus of the church’s mission needs to be:

“While there are occasions when it is proper for the church, through its synods and hierarchies, to make pronouncements on public issues, it is much more important that all its lay members be prepared and equipped to think out the relationship of their faith to their secular work. Here is where the real missionary encounter takes place.”[11]

In order to engage in mission to whole nations or communities, it seems as though there is a fundamental change of focus needed, from the building the local congregation to equipping the members of that congregation to find their place in ministry outside the walls of the church.

John Howard Yoder argues that the “Reformation that has yet to happen,” will be the discovery that every member of the body of Christ has a ministry.[12] If that is true, then the significant majority of those ministries will be outside rather than inside the congregation.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison. (Minneapolois: Fortress, 2010), Loc 10294

[2] ibid, Loc. 10234

[3] ibid, Loc 14343

[4] ibid, Loc 10539

[5] ibid

[6] John De Gruchy, in Dietrich Letters and Papers from Prison. (Minneapolois: Fortress, 2010), Loc 1204

[7] ibid, 1225

[8] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2010), Loc 2205

[9] Mark Greene, The Great Divide (London: London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, 2011),4

[10] ibid

[11] Leslie Newbegin, Foolishness to the Greeks,(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), Loc 1833

[12] As quoted by Craig A. Carter The community of the Word, towards an Evangelical Ecclesiology (ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier) Downers Grove: IVP 2005, 186

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